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Happy Meals: Choosing the Right Food for Your Pet

Our pets count on us for some important things: a soft bed to sleep in, shelter from the elements, and plenty of love. But there's another vital necessity every dog and cat needs to be happy and healthy: a high quality diet.

A healthy diet is just as important to your dog or cat as it is to you. Pets need good nutrition to ward off disease, maintain their weight and keep them feeling good. That said, it can be daunting to try to choose the right food for your pet. Pet food stores are inundated with a vast variety of brands and types, making it hard to know which foods are right for your cat or dog.

When trying to determine the right food for your pet, consider these basics:

  • Complete and balanced. Before you consider a pet food, look for the words "complete and balanced" on the label. This statement means that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has reviewed the food and determined that it has all the crude protein, fat and crude fiber, in addition to vitamins and minerals, a dog or cat needs in its diet.
  • Price point. The amount of money you can spend each month on your pet's food will factor into what you decide to feed your dog or cat. Remember that with pet food, as with many other products, you get what you pay for. You can buy a cheap food for your pet, but chances are you'll be getting a poor quality product. On the other end of the spectrum, food that has human grade ingredients, or is organic, grain-free, raw or dehydrated will cost more. A good rule of thumb is to buy the most expensive food you can afford. A better diet means a healthier pet, so consider it an investment in the future.
  • Palatability. The best food in the world won't do your cat or dog any good if she won't eat it. You may need to experiment to see which foods your pet enjoys the best. Cats are known for being finicky eaters, but some dogs can be pretty picky too. Find a food your pet likes, and offer different flavors to keep your pet from getting bored.

Once you select a food, pay attention to the feeding guidelines on the label. Most foods give a range of amounts you can feed a cat or dog, depending on how much it weighs. You may have to experiment to see which amounts keep your pet at the best weight.

When it comes time to feed, remember to help make your pet's mealtime as pleasant as possible. Serve your pet's food in a quiet place, away from other animals. Provide a bowl that doesn't slide around while your cat or dog is eating, and be sure to wash it out after every meal. Keep a dish of fresh water nearby, too.

If you have questions or concerns about your pet's diet, remember that your veterinarian can provide you with answers. Know too that chronic health conditions can sometimes be treated with diet, while issues of obesity and low weight can both be helped with the proper nutrition. Your vet is the best person to help you when it comes to your pet's diet.

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